This week, a Japanese destroyer docked in the Philippines for a weekend goodwill visit. Though the visit itself was a routine development in bilateral ties, its timing amid a series of other related engagements reinforced both the continued significance of the Japan-Philippines defense relationship as well as Manila’s continued cultivation of ties with its partners in the maritime realm.
As I have noted before, Japan and the Philippines have a defense relationship that has continued strengthening in spite of the uncertainties and subsequent refocusing we have seen under President Rodrigo Duterte amid his rebalancing of Manila’s external relationships (See: “A Big Week for Japan-Philippines Defense Ties”). This includes not only regular ports visits and exchanges, but also equipment and training as Japan looks to boost ties with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian states in the defense realm while Manila eyes ways to strengthen its limited military capabilities to address a series of challenges.
There also continue to be efforts that Japan undertakes in collaboration with or alongside other Philippine partners such as Australia and the United States, even though these activities are more often than not done in a quieter fashion relative to the Aquino years and are not accompanied by reiterations of growing strategic alignment (See: “ASEAN-Japan Coast Guard Cooperation in the Spotlight with Philippines Exercise”).
This week was a good example of an active week for the Philippines and its allies and partners on the maritime side. Among the publicly disclosed maritime activities with its partners, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and the guided-missile escort cruiser USS Bunker Hill were in Manila for a port visit on Wednesday as part of a wider deployment, while the two Royal Australian Navy (RAN) vessels the HMAS Anzac and the HMAS Success were also there for a visit that will last through the weekend.
On Friday, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Akizuki (DD-115) also joined the United States and Australia on this list. According to local media reports, the JS Akizuki docked at Alava Wharf in Subic Bay for a three-day goodwill visit, after a meeting point procedure off Morong Bataan by BRP Emilio Jacinto (PS-35).
Philippine Navy (PN) spokesperson Captain Lued Lincuna said the visit, which will last until Monday, would include a series of confidence-building measures between the two sides, including goodwill games and some exchanges. The visit, he said, will be capped with a sending-off ceremony and a passing exercise (PASSEX) on April 16.
No other specifics were publicly provided regarding the scope of maritime activities during the series of visits this week. But in light of the new balance the Philippines is trying to seek between pursuing closer ties with China and addressing challenges while also preserving its ties with its traditional allies and partners, activities like the destroyer visit are worth watching closely.